Luke XXI: Lk. 5:27-39
This passage is about how God has broken into the world that was growing old under the curse of sin and death, and how He has begun to infect it with His new life.
In Jesus, God has come to interrupt us with His grace. And here, He interrupts Levi at the tax booth. As a tax collector, Levi would have been viewed as a morally corrupt thief, a Roman collaborator, and certainly ceremonially unclean from doing business with gentiles. But Jesus calls Levi to follow him, and like the paralytic, Levi rises up and walks (Lk. 5:28). When Jesus speaks, fevers leave, demons flee, the unclean are cleansed, and sinners are forgiven. And when Jesus calls, there is nothing in all creation that can prevent us from coming. This is a glorious truth and the basis of Christian hope and certainty. God, in His unquenchable love, chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5). And that decision included redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of sins (Eph. 1:7, cf. Phil. 1:6). This is why Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (Jn. 10:27-29).
Jesus Calls Sinners
Just as Simon’s mother in-law immediately rose from her fever and began to serve (Lk. 4:39), and as the leper was reintegrated into his community (Lk. 5:14), and the paralytic went home, glorifying God (Lk. 5:25), so Levi throws a feast for Jesus and invites many friends (Lk. 5:29). When God calls us out of darkness, He calls us into the light and that light includes community and friendship and joy. Because of Levi’s past, many of his friends are tax collectors and others of a similar questionable background, and the Pharisees and scribes grumble at the disciples, wondering why they are eating with tax collectors and sinners (Lk. 5:30). Once again, this is partly a ceremonial objection. Eating with unclean people would almost certainly make you unclean. But there’s nothing in the law that prohibits eating with sinners or tax collectors. This objection indicates that the Pharisees and scribes have created certain social barriers to try and protect their purity. It’s worth noting that when Jesus caught Simon’s attention in the boat full of fish, he confessed that he was a “sinful man” (Lk. 5:8) and the first thing Jesus said to the paralytic was that his sins were forgiven (Lk. 5:20). So Jesus has already been associating with sinners, but now he’s eating with sinners. But this is because Jesus came to “call sinners” (Lk. 5:32). Jesus doesn’t deny that Levi was a sinner or that his friends were sinners, he nods and smiles and affirms that this is precisely why He has come (Lk. 5:31-32).
Old & New
Not only do the Pharisees object to who Jesus is feasting with, they object to the fact that He’s feasting at all (Lk. 5:33). In the Old Covenant, people could draw near to God, but it was a highly regulated, complex, system of blood and water and rituals. In this sense, the Old Covenant was a time of fasting interspersed with a few feasts, but in Jesus, God has drawn near to fully and finally deal with sin and give people free access to Him again. This is why Jesus comes eating and drinking. He is the festal life of God made accessible to all men. He is the Bridegroom coming with great joy to marry the bride (Lk. 5:34). The New Covenant is characterized by this joyful presence of God and the free and simple access to His presence, and for this reason, the New Covenant is an era of feasting (Lk. 5:35). It seems likely that by pointing to John’s disciples, the Pharisees are objecting to Jesus circumventing the temple and priesthood – why can’t Jesus preach the Kingdom while working within the old system? And His parables are the answer: you can’t combine old clothes and new clothes (Lk. 5:36), new wine and old wine skins (Lk. 5:37), you’ll ruin the new thing by trying to force it to fit with the old (Lk. 5:36-38). And Jesus recognizes that there is a deep natural inclination to reject the new wine, when the old wine seems good enough (Lk. 5:39).
Conclusions & Applications
In another place, Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:29-30). This sentiment and the one we find in this text may sound strange to some of your ears. Some of you may be thinking, that’s all well and good, but my life has hardly been a feast of joy – the yoke of Jesus doesn’t feel light to me. Or even if you haven’t experienced horrific heartache, you likely know others who have. In some ways, the rejoicing-all-the-day people can seem like Pharisees to you. And maybe sometimes they even seem to resent people with problems, and so their joy seems so superficial and fake and hypocritical.
On the flip side, it can be easy for people to superficially embrace the feasting and the joy. And any complaints from the previous group sound like whining and complaining. And it’s easy for them to label the hurting people as the Pharisees. Stop complaining and whining about your pain and shame and just join the party, people.
Which one are you? Do you resent the festal joy of some Christians and suspect that they don’t really care about your pain or the pain of others? Or do you resent the pain and problems of others and think they’re getting in the way of the feast? Here’s the thing: Pharisees are not identified by pain or smiles but by resentment (Lk. 5:30). And there’s a little Pharisee in every human heart that resents grace.
On the one hand, the feasters resent the fact that grace welcomes sinners to the feast. But have you forgotten how you got here? You were invited because you were a leper, a paralytic, a tax collector, and you were cleansed, you were forgiven, you were called to the feast. That was your ticket in. On the other hand, the fussers resent the fact that grace throws a feast. But have you forgotten who is throwing the feast? It’s Jesus, the Bridegroom, the friend of sinners, and He is a physician of souls. He knows how to heal your broken heart. He knows how to heal those painful scars. He is the one rejoicing over you, and He calls you to the feast.
So come with your heavy burdens and find rest for your souls.